Tom Ovenden enjoyed the perfect start to his Vertu Motors MINI CHALLENGE Trophy title challenge with the quickest time in a record-breaking qualifying session for the opening round of the season at Brands Hatch.

In conditions that couldn’t have been more different to the heavy rain that affected the 2022 finale at the same circuit, the EXCELR8 driver was able to secure a second pole in the Cooper class with a new qualifying lap record – grabbing top spot by the relatively large margin of 0.117s around the short Indy circuit.

Ovenden was the first driver in the 15 minute session to break the 57s marker, with a lap that went below the record set back in 2018 by Toby Goodman.

Reigning Rookie Cup champion Jack Byrne would then better that time to move into provisional pole, but Ovenden wasn’t to be beaten and edged back ahead of the Irish racer to take his place at the head of the field.

“I’m absolutely delighted to grab pole,” he said. “My focus throughout the winter has been on that session to try and put it in P1 so to achieve that is fantastic. It’s a gorgeous day, a lot better than it was for the final round last year, but that meant we didn’t have a lot of data to work with. The test yesterday was important to dial the car in but I felt confident that we’d have a good car and the times showed that.

“I think we’re going to have a good race car, so bring on race one!”

Behind Ovenden, second on the grid for Byrne heading into his first weekend as part of the Graves Motorsport team saw him secure his best qualifying result in the series to date – putting the #486 car firmly in the mix to challenge for a maiden race win.

“Going through last year we made good progress but I think we reached the limit of what we could do running the car ourselves,” he said. “Running with Graves has made a big difference and the car feels phenomenal, there are lots of little bits that have come together to help.

“We’ve on the outside of the grid which I think is a good position to be here at Brands Hatch so I’m confident of a strong race.”

Behind the two established racers, the battle to be top rookie would come down to just 0.040secs, with reigning Junior Saloons champion Max Hall ultimately edging out Harvey Riby to secure third on the grid.

“That was better than I expected,” Westbourne racer Hall admitted. “It was all about trying to get space on track and hopefully I can stick with the leading pair when the lights went out.”

“I’m really happy with that for race one,” EXCELR8’s Riby added. “The whole grid is so close and this is a totally different ball game to testing. We want to be at the front, so this is a good start.”

Despite losing a time to track limits, Nicky Taylor secured fifth on the grid ahead of his Graves Motorsport partner Alex Solley, with two more rookies sharing the fourth row in the shape of Harry Hickton and Reece Lycett.

Nathan Edwards and Ashley Gregory rounded out the top ten, although both drivers were troubled during the session by transponder issues that left them running blind for much of the session.

Lee Pearce topped the Directors Cup runners in P12.

Race one is scheduled for 14:50.